Fooch's Note: While some will disagree with the assessment, this FanPost is well put together and takes an interesting look at a topic we've had plenty of time to discuss.
"Montana to Rice"
It has such a nice ring to it.
"Montana to Rice"
Dactylic, poetic; strong, natural.
"Montana to Rice"
They say three is the most inherent, innate number that man knows. Count "1, 2, 3" out-loud over and over again. It feels natural, circular, complete. Like a waltz, or a good poem written in triplets.
"Montana to Rice" has that same feel. "mon-TAN-uh to RICE". It just sounds right. And it looked pretty good, too.
In 2011, the 49ers got to know the number three all too well, and it became the number most innate to them. Drive 80 yards down the field? Three. Start on your opponent's side of the 50? Three. Create an interception within your opponent's 10? Three.
The Niners were so attracted to the number three that they often put entire games on the foot of David Akers; and he thanked them by kicking his way into the NFL record books, setting the record for most field goals in a single season. So natural was the number three's appeal to Harbaugh and Company, that they willfully declined free penalty yards and a fresh set of downs to make sure that three - and only three - went up on the scoreboard.
Three was the bane of the San Francisco offense last year. It helped us win games, yes; but it also lost us games, and many were waiting for the day when it cost us the wrong game - the game we couldn't get back. Whether you want to blame the Harbaugh/Roman play-calling, the conservative nature of the offense, Alex Smith, the receiving corps, Lee and Akers for being too awesome, or some combination thereof - we all agree that three is a problem that needs to change.
For the purposes of this post, we will focus on the receiving corps - more specifically, Randy Moss - and how a controversial, aging veteran might be the answer to San Francisco getting more sevens.
Randy Moss is a future Hall of Fame wide receiver. He holds quite a number of records, and often where he does not hold the record, he is either tied with our own Jerry Rice, or barely trailing him. If there's one thing Moss has consistently done throughout his career, it's produce. Questions of his production, historically, are right out.
What is up for debate is his controversial status and, as a veteran, his age. These are the two primary concerns of his detractors and those who worry about his ability to produce on this team.
The controversial bit is very easily handled, in my opinion. It has been said in other posts here, but the Niner locker room appears so strong and exudes such a positive glow of togetherness that there is no way Moss could bring it down, even if he tried. In fact, rather than his "attitude" causing problems, Moss will be a positive contributor in that department because this team is so tight and hungry already, and that is the kind of environment where Randy has been known to thrive.
The second concern is his age: 35.
Some point to Braylon Edwards (though only 29) as an example of the risk of bringing in a veteran and it not working out; but Edwards, despite being non-productive on the field and eventually being released, did not slow down this offense in any meta sense. Of course, the 49er offense couldn't be slowed down much more as it stood; but still, the signing of Edwards, game-planning with him as a part of the team, and then releasing him and moving on, was all handled well. It was only the part in the middle, where he was a part of the team, that was bumpy.
If Moss offers us problems off the field, our locker room unity will take care of that; and if he offers problems on the field, he can be released and moved on from just as easily as Braylon was last year. His contract is designed similarly, and it will not be an issue for the team, or the progress of our offense as a unit, to say, "Well, this didn't work. Moving on."
But Moss, despite his downside being almost non-existent for the reasons above, is so much more promising than that. He has produced 1,000 yards in every year of his NFL career, except the years which were his last on a specific team.
With the Vikings, from 1998 to 2003, he produced six consecutive 1,200 yard seasons. He dropped off in '04 due to a hamstring that effectively kept him out of five games, but still produced 767 yards and 13 touchdowns.
All of this with varying figures at quarterback. Randall Cunningham was the primary quarterback in '98, though Brad Johnson did get some games in. In '99, Cunningham (now 36) roughly split time with Jeff George. Neither put up great numbers, but Moss still had 80 receptions for over 1,400 yards. In 2000, a young Daunte Culpepper took over; and the Vikings again made the playoffs. Culpepperr remained the primary quarterback for the rest of Moss' tenure in Minnesota, but the Vikings did not get into the post-season for three consecutive years; and even though they barely squeezed their way in at 8 - 8 in '04, Moss' time there was done by the end of that season.
He moved on to the Oakland Raiders where he produced 1,000 yards in 15 games despite dealing with injuries and being on a 4 - 12 team. In '06, the Raiders finished even worse, and Moss, dealing with more injuries and allegedly lacking in effort, only played in 13 games, producing 500 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In '07 he moved to New England and had an historic year. Though he missed pre-season and much of camp with another hamstring injury, he had a season for the record books and the Patriots came one game away from the perfect 18 - 0 season. From '08 to '09 he continued to produce over 1,000 yards, but the Patriots exited the playoffs early both years; and in 2010 he was mutually released after feeling disrespected by Belichick and the Patriots organization. Personally, if I had Randy freakin' Moss, I would have treated him better, but what do I know?
He hopped his way through several teams in 2010 after leaving New England - all to his (and their) dissatisfaction.
The pattern emerging is that when a team stops doing well, or when Moss feels disrespected and unwanted, he seems to stop caring. Even still, his production throughout his career is historic - Moss on an apathetic, uncaring day is still Randy Moss - and there is no reason to believe he will not be able to produce with us. It has never seemed to matter who was at quarterback for Moss; from Kerry Collins to Randall Cunningham, from Tom Brady to Jeff George - Moss produced regardless.
What has mattered is the spirit of the locker room, feeling respected and trusted by his teammates and the organization, and winning. Barring a complete 180 from last season, Randy will have all three of these things in San Francicso; and the truth is, no matter what you think of Alex Smith, he will not be the worst quarterback Randy has ever had.
Not only will Moss have the ingredients he demands from an organization, but he still has the speed, height, understanding, and raw talent to make him a great wide receiver. Remember, Moss took a year off in 2010 and had time to think things over. He chose San Francisco as much as we chose him, and that did not happen without a reason. Moss believes this could be a fresh start, and that he can produce here like he used to.
The 49ers have not had a 1,000 yard receiver (or tight end, for that matter) since 2003, when Terrell Owens went for 1,100 at the age of 30. Our leading receiver in '06 was future Hall of Famer, Isaac Bruce, who knotted over 800 yards at the age of 36.
Randy Moss, at the age of 35, still has a couple (literally: two) good years left in him if the history of quality, aging receivers is any indication. The Niners struck gold at the right time (pun intended). This could be the year they finally get a 1,000 yard receiver. Even if it is not Moss, he could provide enough distraction and require enough game-planning that it will open things up for newly acquired Manningham, or for Michael Crabtree, who has been slowly building a solid rapport with Smith.
From 2001 to 2011, 16 different players from the age of 35 to 37 have started at least eight games. Six of those achieved over 1,000 yards, and two did it twice (Owens almost did it for a second time in 2010, despite only starting 11 games):
Jimmy Smith had Byron Leftwich and David Gerrard in '04 and '05. Tim Brown had a 36-year-old Rich Gannon. Rod Smith had Jake Plummer. Galloway had Bruce Gradkowski, 36-year-old Jeff Garcia, and Luke McCown in his two years on the list. Owens had Romo in '09 and Carson Palmer in '10. Mason had Flacco.
Where does Smith fit in among these names and the years they had? Where does Moss fit in among the receivers? Going off this alone is there any reason to believe they could not produce something serviceable together? What would you accept as serviceable?
Here are the five receivers who started at least eight games between ages 35 and 37 over the past two years. Since they are more Moss' contemporaries, perhaps they can provide a template for what we might expect:
Do any of these stat lines look good enough to you? Acceptable? The average between the five (doing the math in my head and rounding, so forgive slight mistakes) is 12.5 games started, 15 games played, 53 receptions for 633 yards, and roughly six touchdowns.
If that was Moss' season would you be satisfied? What kind of season are you expecting from Randy Moss?
Personally, I think he and Smith could do better, but I would take the average stat line produced above if it meant that Manningham and Crabtree were getting more looks and more yards and more touchdowns.
Regardless, our passing game seems destined to improve dramatically, and I expect Randy Moss to be a big part of that. I am really excited to see him out there in a Niners uniform, I do not expect any serious issues to arise - on or off the field - and I think many of us will be pleasantly surprised at what Randy Moss is still capable of.
More than anything, I'm looking forward to hearing this from my TV set all the way into February:
"Smith to Moss! Touchdown 49ers! David Akers comes on for the PAT."